Book Review by Acharya S.P.Dwivedi
Promod Puri is a distinguished South Asian journalist and prolific essayist. In his book- “Hinduism” he tried to cover the historical evolution of Hindu dharma and its major philosophies, theistic doctrines, social codes, rituals and practices. He admits openly, “Hinduism is a democracy of conflicting, contradicting and controversial thoughts and theories” (Preface iii) with that feeling it would have been difficult for him “to pick and choose” the paths, philosophies or doctrines. He neither claims that book is an academic research paper nor meant for teaching. Furthermore, he admits that the understanding and facts he acquired about Hinduism is mostly based on internet and his personal experiences, and that reflects his humbleness too.
As far as methodology is concerned Puri has applied analytical approach. He interprets everything rationally and denounces irrational snobbery. Being a Hindu, he doesn’t use any smoke screen to hide his anguish, frustration or guilt-consciousness, and out rightly condemns centuries old decayed, dis-functional and torturous Hindu social traditions and customs. He dealt in length demonic treatment of untouchables and downtrodden (Dalit) segments of society.
He focuses on issues and challenges which modern person of Hindu community are facing. Commendable job in putting Hindu religion from historical development to present practices. This Puri has done on his own terms without any obsession of classical tradition of discussion based on school of philosophies and theistic doctrines. He identified the tumult of terrific inhuman practices and racked the truth which is all spread over religiously regulated life of a common person of Hindu community.
He writes thoughtfully and straight from the heart. His intelligence is not dimmed because of his repetition on the subject of untouchables. His book and its contents will motivate not only Hindu reform- loving people but all those also who will cherish his banner of equality, dignity and justice to all living beings on earth. He moves from Hindu problem and turns it a global one. Puri emerges as a vanguard of Hindu reforms.
Puri came up with the categories of philosophies, yogas, scriptures and sciences, music, dance and drama and thoroughly explained it. Of course, he cited several quotations from Manu Smriti to buttress his arguments. It would not be out of way to say that- ‘one life is not enough to cover all Hindu scriptures’. Of course, Puri has no commitment with any particular Hindu creed or ideology. Although, Puri seems to be leaning on Western scholars while describing the period of the development of Hindu religion and writings of scriptures but adhered with the basic values.
As for as the symbolic significance of idolatry, spirituality, karma-dharma and temple rituals are concerned, he picked up the true spirit of Hindu belief system and offered impressive interpretations for example- “Idolatry establishes direct one to one relationship between a devotee and the divinity”(p.36), “ Arti and several other elaborate adoration generate a spiritually charged atmosphere of reverence and sacredness” (p.45), and “ Hinduism’s democratic framework the management of self is what we call a way of life” (p.122). He quoted three verses/mantras 1. Om purnamidam…2.Aum bhur bhuvah… 3.Aum dyauh shanti… because of their sublime quality of universality, peacefulness, harmony and secularism. Obviously, he enriched the Hinduism by adding the scientific interpretation of above mantras including Aum and Naad etc.
He dealt in length the caste and class problem in Hindu society which has degraded and horribly contaminated the social and religious fabric. I have discovered two traits 1. Exposing the social imbalance and 2. Hope for the improvement. In support of the later trait he has described the reform movements and invaluable contribution of the Messiah of Acchoots and Dalits- Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. Puri completely rejected an irrational and non-logical writings of Manu and appeared as a radical and anti-traditionalist.
There is marked difference in the present Hindu society because of an enhancement in education, urbanization and constitutional laws that are en-cracking upon the inflexible traditions.(p83) People are severing their relationship with evil Hindu customs and rituals. It can be safely admitted that reform movement in Hindu religion is gathering momentum. “Consequent to Hinduism’s democratic framework the management of self is what we call a way of life”, a mantra to be enchanted. (p.122)
His lucidity of language carries the freshness and clearness that is immensely impressive, and easily comprehensible. Puri is a writer of uncommon brilliance andj interpretive innovations, and he applied effectively appropriate terminology to strengthen his arguments.
This book appears to be his life’s work and carries delightful blend of scholarly and analytical explanation, and further it provides general reader a concise and easily understood facts of Hinduism. It fulfills the need of authentic exposition of Hinduism. Finally, I would like to conclude that Promod Puri’s works stand out before us to be complimented and appreciated.